REEDSVILLE —Following statements in open session and a lengthy discussion in executive session, the Eastern Local Board of Education voted to reinstate long-time teacher Brian Bowen, who has been on administrative leave for the past nearly six months. Bowen is a middle school teacher and has been the Eastern High School baseball coach for 19 years.
The Eastern Local Board of Education modified the recommendation of Supt. Steve Ohlinger — which was to suspend Bowen and move toward termination of employment — by providing a path for Bowen to return to his job by mid-November.
Bowen will be “assigned to home” through Nov. 1, and then suspended without pay for five days from Nov. 4-8. He must also complete professional development courses before returning to the job.
In a prepared statement, Eastern Local Board of Education President Floyd Ridenour stated,
Eastern Local Schools holds our teaching and athletic staff members to the highest standards of conduct, and the care and safety of students in the district is our top priority. This Board has carefully considered the actions of Brian Bowen, and we share the concerns raised about his contact with students. We have been guided in our consideration process by Superintendent Steve Ohlinger, and we are confident in his leadership.
After considering all of the information and after much deliberation, the Board is modifying the Superintendent’s recommendation by maintaining the Superintendent’s assignment of Mr. Bowen to home through November 1, 2019, then suspending Mr. Bowen without pay for five days, November 4-8, 2019. In addition, the Board will require that Mr. Bowen participate in professional development on proper boundaries with students and sexual harassment to reaffirm his commitment to appropriate student engagement. If that professional development is completed by November 8, 2019, Mr. Bowen may resume his teaching duties. Further, a letter of direction will be provided to Mr. Bowen from the Superintendent, so that the expectations moving forward are clear. This decision, although difficult, is believed by the Board to be in the best interests of our students, our school family and the community.
The decision by the board came following a more than two hour, thirty minute executive session, as well as public participation by a district resident and a fellow teacher and coach.
After both individuals spoke — one in support of Bowen and one in support of terminating Bowen’s employment — Attorney Chris Tenoglia asked to address the board in open session regarding his client, Bowen.
Tenoglia stated that it was the right of Bowen, as his employment was to be considered by the board, to present his case against the termination of employment in open session, rather than in the closed-door executive session.
Ridenour allowed Tenoglia 15 minutes to present information to the board in open session before the board went into executive session. Tenoglia and Bowen were also called into executive session for a portion of the time, as was Board Attorney Nicole Donovsky of Bricker and Eckler.
In open session, Tenoglia stated that the “assignment to home” on May 3 of Bowen by Ohlinger was based on rumors of inappropriate conduct by Bowen with a female student. Rumors to which there was no evidence, said Tenoglia.
After Bowen was assigned to home, an investigation was conducted into the rumors on behalf of the district.
Tenoglia said that the investigator’s report stated Bowen had acted inappropriately in purchasing snacks for players, sitting too close to a female player and not moving away, texting a female player, and touching the backside of a female player.
Tenoglia said that it is common for coaches to purchase food items for players, something he had done as well when he was a coach. Additionally, when a player sits down next to a coach to discuss a game or matter of coaching, Tenoglia said that a coach would normally sit and talk with a player, not move away from them.
Regarding the text messages, Tenoglia said on one of the occasions Bowen had texted a player to discuss a game, while on another occasion he texted several team members and coaches after the bus had left without him from a game at Miller.
Tenoglia presented the board with an affidavit from the alleged victim which stated that Bowen had never acted inappropriately toward her or touched her in an inappropriate manner. The girl’s father was also in attendance at Thursday evening’s meeting to support Bowen, although the father did not directly address the board.
Tenoglia also provided the board with a tape recording of the interview with Bowen which was conducted by the investigator at Tenoglia’s office.
Several members of the Eastern baseball team, along with parents were in attendance for the meeting in support of Bowen. The majority of those in attendance applauded the decision by the board.
Bowen declined to comment after the meeting.
Additional information from Thursday evening’s meeting will appear in an upcoming edition of The Daily Sentinel.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.